Commentary Magazine


Topic: Roger Cohen

Roger Cohen, the “Nakba,” and the Falsification of History

For the particularly cynical, monomaniacal critics of Israel and global Jewry, there are myriad ways to hijack the humble, introspective liturgy of the High Holidays to produce a sanctimonious ego-boosting tirade in order to make your column deadline with enough time left over to pat yourself on the back afterwards. If you’re Roger Cohen of the New York Times, there’s the added challenge of making sure to also mangle your history and dishonor the victims of genocide so your readers will get the column they’ve come to expect from you. And readers, Cohen’s post-High Holidays column does not disappoint.

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For the particularly cynical, monomaniacal critics of Israel and global Jewry, there are myriad ways to hijack the humble, introspective liturgy of the High Holidays to produce a sanctimonious ego-boosting tirade in order to make your column deadline with enough time left over to pat yourself on the back afterwards. If you’re Roger Cohen of the New York Times, there’s the added challenge of making sure to also mangle your history and dishonor the victims of genocide so your readers will get the column they’ve come to expect from you. And readers, Cohen’s post-High Holidays column does not disappoint.

Cohen begins by explaining that as he sat in a Reform shul in London over the High Holidays, he couldn’t help but notice that the rabbis were not using the pulpit to bash Israel. No matter–he has a pulpit in the New York Times, so he could do it himself. On the topic of Palestinian children killed in Hamas’s recent war with Israel in Gaza, Cohen offers this:

However framed, the death of a single child to an Israeli bullet seems to betoken some failure in the longed-for Jewish state, to say nothing of several hundred. The slaughter elsewhere in the Middle East cannot be an alibi for Jews to avoid this self-scrutiny.

One straw man up, one straw man disposed of. And in particularly accusatory fashion as well: as if Israeli self-scrutiny needs Cohen’s prodding, and as if any defense of its actions is properly labeled an “alibi,” thereby affirming the criminal nature of Israeli self-defense. Cohen then swings again:

Throughout the Diaspora, the millennia of being strangers in strange lands, Jews’ restless search in the scriptures for the ethics contained in sacred words formed a transmission belt of Judaism. For as long as the shared humanity of the other is perceived and felt, such questioning is unavoidable. The terrible thing about the Holy Land today is the denial of this humanity to the stranger. When that goes, so does essential self-interrogation. As mingling has died, separation has bred denial and contempt.

This is a classic tactic of the left: whatever the Palestinians are obviously guilty of–in this case, dehumanizing the Jews–the Jews too must be guilty of, because otherwise there would be no moral or intellectual basis for Cohen’s worldview, which assumes Israel’s guilt.

And it’s especially rich of Cohen to throw the “separation” in Israel’s face. In fact, Israeli policy is, as we saw this past week, to encourage Jews and Arabs to live side by side in shared peace and prosperity. The view of the left, the Obama administration, and the editorial board of the newspaper that employs Roger Cohen is that ethnic segregation–and in some places, like Givat Hamatos, racial segregation–must be enforced. Cohen’s segregationist employers might be a better target for his ire, though that would require a level of intellectual honesty Cohen is not prepared to demonstrate.

Cohen then goes on to speculate that perhaps the rabbis did want to use the pulpit to denigrate Israel but were afraid to incur the wrath of the Jews who keep such rabbis “muzzled,” in the words of a colleague of Cohen quoted in the column.

But then Cohen finally gets to the point. After referencing a passage from Stefan Zweig that refers to the Jews as the one and only “community of expulsion,” Cohen updates it to make clear the Jews are now the oppressors, the ones who expel:

Two phrases leapt out: “community of expulsion,” and “driven out of lands but without a land to go to.” The second embodied the necessity of the Jewish state of Israel. But it was inconceivable, at least to me, without awareness of the first. Palestinians have joined the ever-recurring “community of expulsion.” The words of Leviticus are worth repeating for any Jew in or concerned by Israel today: Treat the stranger as yourself, for “you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

What Cohen is saying here, implicitly, is that the Palestinian narrative of the “nakba” is correct. But with an especially offensive twist: that the Jews expelled the Palestinians in much the same way the Jews themselves have been expelled from countries for thousands of years.

It should go without saying, but apparently it does not, that for Cohen to sit in a synagogue in Europe and decide that the Palestinians are the victims of what Europe did to the Jews is not run-of-the-mill historical ignorance: it’s malicious falsehood and it’s repulsive. But it’s also nonsensical to equate the pre-Israel Jews “without a land to go to” with the Palestinians in Gaza (or the West Bank, for that matter). In fact, the Palestinians are sitting on land that they govern, and for which Israel has offered recognition of Palestinian statehood and practically begged them to accept it.

The Palestinians are not a people without a land, and they don’t have to be a people without a state. But the Palestinians would have to accept their statehood and all the responsibilities that come along with it. They’ve thus far chosen not to, and no amount of slandering of the Jewish people on the High Holidays is going to change that.

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Appeasement of Iran Should Be Unthinkable

The secret nuclear negotiations that have been going on recently between Iran and the States have, to date, yielded no results. But given the recent statements from both President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry indicating their continuing zeal for a deal with Tehran, one shouldn’t discount the possibility that sometime in the coming month or those that follows, they will yield enough to the ayatollahs to secure some kind of agreement. If so, the question Americans will have to answer is whether they want to live in a world in which the administration’s drive for détente with Iran yields a new nuclear power.

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The secret nuclear negotiations that have been going on recently between Iran and the States have, to date, yielded no results. But given the recent statements from both President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry indicating their continuing zeal for a deal with Tehran, one shouldn’t discount the possibility that sometime in the coming month or those that follows, they will yield enough to the ayatollahs to secure some kind of agreement. If so, the question Americans will have to answer is whether they want to live in a world in which the administration’s drive for détente with Iran yields a new nuclear power.

The president’s rhetoric on Iran has always been good. He pledged to stop Iran when he first ran for president in 2008 and went even further in 2012 as he vowed not to terminate its nuclear program. But last year’s interim nuclear revealed that his desire to “engage” Iran is clearly greater than any fears about giving the Islamist regime the ability to achieve their nuclear ambition if they are determined to do so. Last year’s deal was achieved only by the U.S. abandoning the considerable economic and military leverage it had over Iran. If Obama is to get another, he will have to go further and gut sanctions altogether while allowing Tehran to retain its nuclear infrastructure in exchange for precautions that cannot be enforced and can easily be reversed by the Iranians. The farcical nature of some of the proposals intended to ensure that Iran will not get a bomb indicates just how desperate the U.S. is to get any sort of deal that could allow the president to pretend that he had kept his promises.

But for the moment, let’s ignore the details and just think about what it will mean for the U.S. to end Iran’s isolation. Advocates for Iran, such as New York Times columnist Roger Cohen consider a “thinkable ally.” Cohen has long been besotted with the Islamist regime, going so far in 2009 to write a series of embarrassing columns in which he sought to argue that Jews were actually treated well by one of the planet’s most anti-Semitic regimes. Now he has returned to his dream and normalizing relations with the Islamist tyranny and believes the president can make it a reality if only he will stop worrying about Iran lying about its nuclear dreams and the fact that it is the world’s leading state sponsor of Islamist terrorism.

A world in which such a result is thinkable is one in which the United States will, despite the president’s stated goal of fighting ISIS, be complicit in the transformation of the Middle East into one dominated by Iran and its allies which include Bashar Assad’s murderous Syrian regime, Hezbollah and Hamas. It is one in which both moderate Arab regimes and Israel will rightly fear for their safety and which a newly empowered Iran will be able to threaten the West with the ballistic missiles, the U.S. isn’t interested in negotiating about and a nuclear program that will be easily converted to a weapon.

Americans are rightly afraid of ISIS and applaud the president’s desire to eliminate it. But if the U.S. surrenders to Iran in the nuclear negotiations, what will follow will be far more perilous than anything that ISIS could possibly achieve. This is not something sane persons should consider “thinkable.”

In the next 24 hours, Jews around the world will observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, during which they will contemplate their shortcomings and ask forgiveness for their sins. But we hope the president and those implementing his policies toward Iran will do the same about their plans. We don’t know what the world will look like a year from now. But if the U.S. does not step back from its course of appeasement of Iran, we know it will be even more dangerous than it is now.

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Sorry, Israel Doomsayers, the Conflict Can Be Managed

The last place one expects to find common sense about the Middle East conflict is Roger Cohen’s column in the New York Times. A reflexive critic of the Jewish state, Cohen has been rightly criticized for sloppy writing and threadbare clichés, and he earned lasting infamy in 2009 for a series of columns he wrote seeking to whitewash the Iranian regime of the charge of anti-Semitism. That was an endeavor so transparently false and despicable that it was rightly compared to the Times’s Walter Duranty who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for seeking to depict Josef Stalin as innocent of the crime of genocide in Ukraine. But Cohen has his occasional moments of clarity and today’s piece is one of them. In it, he rightly takes on the oft-repeated charge that the current standoff between Israel and the Palestinians is “unsustainable.”

The notion that Israel must seize any opportunity to make peace on any terms is rooted in a belief that the economic and military strength of the Jewish state is a house of cards that will, sooner or later, come tumbling down as the Palestinians and their supporters undermine both its prosperity and its political legitimacy. But as Cohen writes today, this piece of conventional wisdom that has been embraced by the president of the United States as well as the Jewish left is utter rubbish. As Cohen notes:

Behind its barriers and wall, backed by military might, certain of more or less unswerving American support, technologically innovative and democratically stable, Israel has the power to prolong indefinitely its occupation of the West Bank and its dominion over several million Palestinians. The Jewish state has grown steadily stronger in relation to the Palestinians since 1948. There is no reason to believe this trend will ever be reversed. Holding onto all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, while continuing to prosper, is feasible. This, after all, is what Israel has already done for almost a half-century. …

Throughout this year the Obama administration has pushed the unsustainability argument to make its case for peace. “Today’s status quo, absolutely to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in February. “It is not sustainable. It is illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity, there’s a momentary peace.”…

But that “point” of unmanageability is a vanishing one. Permanent occupation is what several ministers in Netanyahu’s coalition government advocate. Backed by the evidence, they are certain it can be managed. They are right.

Cohen believes this “permanent occupation” is not desirable and the majority of Israelis probably agree with him about that. But the problem is that in the absence of a credible Palestinian peace partner, the idea of retreating from the West Bank as Israel did with Gaza in 2005 is rightly seen as an act of utter folly.

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The last place one expects to find common sense about the Middle East conflict is Roger Cohen’s column in the New York Times. A reflexive critic of the Jewish state, Cohen has been rightly criticized for sloppy writing and threadbare clichés, and he earned lasting infamy in 2009 for a series of columns he wrote seeking to whitewash the Iranian regime of the charge of anti-Semitism. That was an endeavor so transparently false and despicable that it was rightly compared to the Times’s Walter Duranty who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for seeking to depict Josef Stalin as innocent of the crime of genocide in Ukraine. But Cohen has his occasional moments of clarity and today’s piece is one of them. In it, he rightly takes on the oft-repeated charge that the current standoff between Israel and the Palestinians is “unsustainable.”

The notion that Israel must seize any opportunity to make peace on any terms is rooted in a belief that the economic and military strength of the Jewish state is a house of cards that will, sooner or later, come tumbling down as the Palestinians and their supporters undermine both its prosperity and its political legitimacy. But as Cohen writes today, this piece of conventional wisdom that has been embraced by the president of the United States as well as the Jewish left is utter rubbish. As Cohen notes:

Behind its barriers and wall, backed by military might, certain of more or less unswerving American support, technologically innovative and democratically stable, Israel has the power to prolong indefinitely its occupation of the West Bank and its dominion over several million Palestinians. The Jewish state has grown steadily stronger in relation to the Palestinians since 1948. There is no reason to believe this trend will ever be reversed. Holding onto all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, while continuing to prosper, is feasible. This, after all, is what Israel has already done for almost a half-century. …

Throughout this year the Obama administration has pushed the unsustainability argument to make its case for peace. “Today’s status quo, absolutely to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in February. “It is not sustainable. It is illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity, there’s a momentary peace.”…

But that “point” of unmanageability is a vanishing one. Permanent occupation is what several ministers in Netanyahu’s coalition government advocate. Backed by the evidence, they are certain it can be managed. They are right.

Cohen believes this “permanent occupation” is not desirable and the majority of Israelis probably agree with him about that. But the problem is that in the absence of a credible Palestinian peace partner, the idea of retreating from the West Bank as Israel did with Gaza in 2005 is rightly seen as an act of utter folly.

Cohen and others believe Israel’s presence in the West Bank and the corrosive nature of its anomalous relationship with the Palestinians undermines its democratic ethos. But as problematic as that situation may be, as Cohen acknowledges, the vast majority of Israelis prefer to go on living with that conundrum rather than endanger their future by repeating the mistakes of Oslo and Ariel Sharon’s Gaza retreat.

Cohen concludes his largely sensible piece by foolishly claiming that Israel must embrace the new Palestinian unity coalition in which Fatah and Hamas have come together as the best path to peace. He even compares the myth that Israel can be destroyed with the idea that the Palestinian Authority “represents the Palestinian national movement” by itself. That latter point may be true, but that is exactly why it is necessary for Israel to refrain from empowering the Islamists of Hamas as it did for the nationalists of Fatah under the Oslo Accords. Given the choice of making peace with Israel or with Hamas, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas chose Hamas. The idea that Hamas or even most of Fatah is willing to accept peace with Israel is a myth that is every bit as baseless as the one about Israel’s impending doom.

But Cohen’s broader point about sustainability is one the doomsayers about Israel on the left need to come to terms with. By feeding the Palestinian fantasy about Israel running out of time to make peace, President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and their cheerleaders on the Jewish left are actually undermining the chances for peace. The notion that Israel is living on borrowed time has been a staple of Middle East commentary since its victory in 1967 and it is just as much of a fallacy today as it was then. Indeed, despite numerous problems, both domestic and foreign, Israel has become an economic and military powerhouse that cannot be wished away. While some toy with unrealistic notions about a one-state solution, most Israelis would prefer a two-state answer to their current predicament but sensibly understand that must be deferred until the Palestinians come to their senses and reject a concept of national identity that is not inextricably tied to a quest for Israel’s destruction. If and when they do, they will find that Israel is ready to deal with them. But until then, they will remain mired in their current dilemma while the Jewish state continues to wax stronger.

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The Israeli-Palestinian “Distraction” Fallacy

Of all the popular idiocies perennially spouted about the Middle East, the one I find most outrageous is the idea that Israeli-Palestinian peace would foment change in Arab societies by removing the “distraction” of Israel’s “oppression of the Palestinians.” Or as the New York Times’ columnist Roger Cohen put it this week, “If Arabs could see in Israel not a Zionist oppressor but the region’s most successful economy, a modern state built in 65 years, they would pose themselves the right questions about openness, innovation and progress.”

Like many Middle Eastern tropes, this one is simultaneously too insulting and too forgiving. It’s too insulting because it deems Arabs incapable of posing “the right questions” on their own, treating their ability to do so as wholly dependent on Israel’s actions. And it’s too forgiving because it views anger at the “Zionist oppressor” as a valid reason for their inability to pose these questions, ignoring the obvious historical fact that numerous non-Arab nations have proven quite capable of posing these questions despite similar or even greater obstacles.

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Of all the popular idiocies perennially spouted about the Middle East, the one I find most outrageous is the idea that Israeli-Palestinian peace would foment change in Arab societies by removing the “distraction” of Israel’s “oppression of the Palestinians.” Or as the New York Times’ columnist Roger Cohen put it this week, “If Arabs could see in Israel not a Zionist oppressor but the region’s most successful economy, a modern state built in 65 years, they would pose themselves the right questions about openness, innovation and progress.”

Like many Middle Eastern tropes, this one is simultaneously too insulting and too forgiving. It’s too insulting because it deems Arabs incapable of posing “the right questions” on their own, treating their ability to do so as wholly dependent on Israel’s actions. And it’s too forgiving because it views anger at the “Zionist oppressor” as a valid reason for their inability to pose these questions, ignoring the obvious historical fact that numerous non-Arab nations have proven quite capable of posing these questions despite similar or even greater obstacles.

Taiwan, for instance, was founded by refugees driven from their homeland after losing a civil war that erupted immediately after the end of one of the most brutal occupations in recent history – Japan’s occupation of China. Since mainland China never stopped wanting to regain its errant province, the Taiwanese lived in constant fear of invasion. And they had the anguish of watching helplessly as their countrymen on the mainland suffered under Mao’s brutal dictatorship, which killed over 45 million Chinese. Yet none of this stopped the Taiwanese from building a flourishing economy and, later, a flourishing democracy.

Similarly, Rwanda has rebuilt itself into one of Africa’s most successful countries less than two decades after a devastating genocide killed an estimated 800,000 people.

Israel, of course, was established just three years after the Holocaust, and absorbed hundreds of thousands of refugees. During its first 25 years of existence, Arab countries launched three wars aimed at wiping it off the map, and it has suffered nonstop terrorism since its establishment. Yet none of this stopped it from building a flourishing democracy and a flourishing economy.

No less relevant, however, is the way Diaspora Jewry responded to the Holocaust and the subsequent existential threats to Israel – not by impotent rage, but by helping to create today’s flourishing country by building hospitals and schools throughout Israel and funding numerous educational and social programs. That’s something wealthy Arab states and individuals could easily do on behalf of their “oppressed brethren” in Palestine, and it would benefit Palestinians far more than spewing verbal venom at Israel would.

But of course, they haven’t. Western countries primarily fund both the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA, the agency that deals with Palestinian refugees. Wealthy Arab donors haven’t built state-of-the-art hospitals in Palestine like Hadassah or Laniado in Israel; Palestinians seeking top-notch medical care still go to Israel for it. They haven’t founded schools like the ORT network or daycare centers like the WIZO network, which still serve thousands of Israelis today.

And if Arabs haven’t done this in 65 years, when so many other peoples have, there’s no reason to think a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would suddenly make them start. This failure is entirely a product of their own culture. And therefore, change can only come from within.

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Mullahs and Mulligans

In the New York Review of Books, Roger Cohen reviews Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett’s book, Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran. He didn’t like it: the “eerie effort to whitewash the Islamic Republic in Going to Tehran is so extreme that it would be comical if it did not stray close to obscenity.” The Leveretts “have drunk the Islamic Republic’s Kool-Aid to the last drop.” They are “across-the-board apologists” whose book is “buried in heavy doses of one-sided drivel,” written in a “customary egregious style,” envisaging an “utterly fanciful” grand bargain. The book is “a disservice to the truth.”

On that last point, Cohen writes with knowledge the Leveretts lack, since he witnessed the Iranian uprising on June 12, 2009. His recollection in his review is worth reading, for reasons that extend beyond his critique of the Leveretts’ book:

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In the New York Review of Books, Roger Cohen reviews Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett’s book, Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran. He didn’t like it: the “eerie effort to whitewash the Islamic Republic in Going to Tehran is so extreme that it would be comical if it did not stray close to obscenity.” The Leveretts “have drunk the Islamic Republic’s Kool-Aid to the last drop.” They are “across-the-board apologists” whose book is “buried in heavy doses of one-sided drivel,” written in a “customary egregious style,” envisaging an “utterly fanciful” grand bargain. The book is “a disservice to the truth.”

On that last point, Cohen writes with knowledge the Leveretts lack, since he witnessed the Iranian uprising on June 12, 2009. His recollection in his review is worth reading, for reasons that extend beyond his critique of the Leveretts’ book:

The revolt began when, within hours of polling stations closing, Ahmadinejad was pronounced the first-round winner of the presidential election with 62.63 percent of the vote, a result that—as Mir Hussein Moussavi’s Green Movement surged—gave the incumbent almost 20 million more votes than in the first round in 2005. How, Iranians asked, could this be?

I was there that day, and for the twelve days following, and will never forget the courage of millions of Iranians protesting what they saw as their stolen votes in the face of the regime’s thuggery throughout the city … Ahmadinejad and the regime set out from June 13 to smash Moussavi and his supporters, burning his headquarters that morning, beating countless women in the streets, closing down the Interior Ministry where votes were being counted, expelling the foreign correspondents they could lay their hands on, ranting about Western conspiracies, and creating an atmosphere of terror in Tehran and other major cities … “Ahmadinejad Won. Get Over It.” This was the headline of an Op-Ed by the Leveretts in Politico on June 15, 2009. At the time they had never gone to Tehran. But they knew.

Roger Cohen is himself a notorious apologist for the Iranian regime, so the Leveretts may find his criticism stinging, in the way it hurts to have one’s appearance criticized by a frog. But this intramural dispute between Walter Duranty wannabes should not obscure a larger point. President Obama voted “present” in June 2009, as the regime staged a fraudulent election and then cut down protesters. At the time, Roger Cohen reported Iranians were asking “Where is Obama?” Perhaps they hadn’t read his Inaugural address, which intoned: “Those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” It was a graceless signal that America’s freedom agenda from the Bush years would not be a problem for the mullahs.

Four years of wrong-sided history later, the regime is nearing completion of its nuclear program, unresponsive to Obama’s endlessly extended hand, unfazed by his rhetorical red lines and non-crippling sanctions, ready to hold another fraudulent election. Yesterday it effectively barred opposition candidates–an act the New York Times reports “shocked Iranians,” and that would “put the last major state institution under [the Mullahs’ and Revolutionary Guard] control—the first time since the 1979 revolution that all state institutions were under the firm control of one faction.”

A leader looking for a choice between war and appeasement ought to consider a full-throated defense of the Iranian people’s right to vote out an oppressive and illegitimate regime, and take this opportunity to lead the world in delegitimizing it. Perhaps this time Obama will find his voice, but more likely he will remain silent, still hoping (like Roger Cohen) for a bargain, once the Iranian “election” is over and he can use his own post-election flexibility. 

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The Cylinder and the Jews

In recent years, discussion of the Jewish festival of Purim—whose observance begins Saturday night—has been linked to the nation of Iran. That has had little to do with the fact that the saga of the Book of Esther takes place in ancient Persia or that the places that are believed by some to be the tombs of Esther and Mordechai are located in what is now Iran. Instead, the association with Iran has more to do with the clear link between the exterminationist agenda of Haman, the villain of the Purim tale, and that of Iran’s present day rulers. Both Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who deny the truth of the Holocaust while plotting another genocide of the Jews with their nuclear project, are easily added to the list of evildoers who have been seen as latter-day Hamans throughout the long and often tragic course of modern Jewish history.

But for those who wish to either whitewash the Islamist regime or to dismiss the legitimate fears of their existential threat to Israel (as well as to the stability of the region and the security of the West), the identification of Iran’s tyrannical rulers serves to demonize a great nation that should be understood and not confronted. For veteran Iran apologist and New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, the onset of Purim should cause us to think about other, more appealing Persians. Thus, Cohen devotes a column published today to the ancient Persian King Cyrus, whose famous cylinder is about to leave the British Museum on a tour of the United States. The cylinder that has been dubbed the first bill of human rights is proof, Cohen tells us, of the benign nature of the nation of Iran. The topic makes it possible for him to write an entire piece about the country without once using the “n” word–that in this case is “nuclear” and not a racial insult.

But this attempt to divert us from the deadly threat emanating from Iran is not only disingenuous; it misses a crucial point about the history of the nation that he is so desperate for us to love.

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In recent years, discussion of the Jewish festival of Purim—whose observance begins Saturday night—has been linked to the nation of Iran. That has had little to do with the fact that the saga of the Book of Esther takes place in ancient Persia or that the places that are believed by some to be the tombs of Esther and Mordechai are located in what is now Iran. Instead, the association with Iran has more to do with the clear link between the exterminationist agenda of Haman, the villain of the Purim tale, and that of Iran’s present day rulers. Both Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who deny the truth of the Holocaust while plotting another genocide of the Jews with their nuclear project, are easily added to the list of evildoers who have been seen as latter-day Hamans throughout the long and often tragic course of modern Jewish history.

But for those who wish to either whitewash the Islamist regime or to dismiss the legitimate fears of their existential threat to Israel (as well as to the stability of the region and the security of the West), the identification of Iran’s tyrannical rulers serves to demonize a great nation that should be understood and not confronted. For veteran Iran apologist and New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, the onset of Purim should cause us to think about other, more appealing Persians. Thus, Cohen devotes a column published today to the ancient Persian King Cyrus, whose famous cylinder is about to leave the British Museum on a tour of the United States. The cylinder that has been dubbed the first bill of human rights is proof, Cohen tells us, of the benign nature of the nation of Iran. The topic makes it possible for him to write an entire piece about the country without once using the “n” word–that in this case is “nuclear” and not a racial insult.

But this attempt to divert us from the deadly threat emanating from Iran is not only disingenuous; it misses a crucial point about the history of the nation that he is so desperate for us to love.

Any discussion of Cohen’s writings about Iran and the Jews must begin (and perhaps end) with the mention of the series of columns he wrote in early 2009 in which he set out to prove that the country was a nice place for Jews to live. As I discussed in detail in the May 2009 issue of COMMENTARY, Cohen toured the country and was allowed to speak with some of the remnant of a once great Iranian Jewish community by his government minders. But in the worst tradition of blind Westerners being deceived by totalitarians he fell hook, line and sinker for the line of baloney he was sold. The result was a disgrace that invoked the memory of Walter Duranty, the Times writer who won an undeserved Pulitzer Prize for telling the West that tales of Josef Stalin’s mass murders were untrue. Despite the deluge of justified criticism to which he was subjected for this journalistic atrocity, Cohen continues to pontificate at the Times, where he inveighs against Israel and often criticizes the efforts to rouse the West to isolate the Tehran government that he served so well. Indeed, in his current column he even slams the movie “Argo”—which depicts the Iranian hostage crisis—for promoting “negative stereotypes” about Iran.

One might think his discussion of Cyrus, the Persian conqueror that defeated the Babylonians and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland after their first exile, would be uncontroversial. But any attempt to identify that historical figure with present day Iran is absurd.

As Alex Joffe wrote in Jewish Ideas Daily in 2011, the notion of the Cyrus Cylinder being a Persian Magna Carta is probably more hype than history. But even if we are prepared to buy into the traditional praise given Cyrus, as Joffe points out, the desire of the Iranian regime to identify itself with his legacy is highly offensive. When the cylinder was brought to Iran for a showing, an actor wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh greeted it as part of an effort to appropriate him into the current version of Persian nationalism that is so shamelessly exploited by the ayatollahs.

Though Cohen doesn’t mention this, he plays the same game as he writes of the cylinder being an apt symbol of Iranian culture. But what he fails to mention is that when Islam swept through Persia, it eradicated any trace of the religious toleration that characterized the Cyrus tradition. The reason why the “n” word is so important to any discussion of Iran is because of the intolerance of the regime and the steady stream of anti-Semitic vituperation that flows from its media and permeates its society. It is not just that Iran’s leaders have threatened to wipe Israel off the map while working to create a nuclear option to do just that. It is that this is a government that has made Jew-hatred the singular theme of their foreign policy.

Let us hope that someday we will live to see the ayatollahs overthrown by an Iranian people that will reject their hatred and that wishes to live in peace with Israel and the rest of the world. On that day, we will do well to think of Cyrus. But until then, and especially as Iran draws closer to the realization of their nuclear goal, it will take more than the feeble writing of a Roger Cohen to prevent us from thinking of Haman when we discuss Iran.

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The Palestinians Never Wanted Fayyadism

There was one point on which both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations as well as the Israeli governments of Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu all agreed upon. All four thought Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was someone who wanted to be a partner for peace with Israel and ought to be encouraged. Fayyad earned almost universal praise from both peace process cheerleaders and skeptics who saw the American-educated technocrat as someone who was devoted to reforming the corrupt and incompetent PA and giving his people something they were denied under the rule of both Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas: good government and economic development.

That Fayyad failed in his efforts is not a matter that most people think is worth debating. The only question is why he didn’t succeed. To that query, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen provides the answer that is his catch-all excuse for anything that goes wrong in the Middle East: Israel. That this onetime apologist for an anti-Semitic Iranian regime prefers to focus on the supposed evils of the Netanyahu government is hardly surprising. But his inability to understand just how isolated Fayyad was in Palestinian society speaks volumes about why most Israel-bashers are clueless about Arab rejectionism.

The most important thing to understand about Fayyad’s place in Palestinian politics is that he has always been a man without a party. In a political culture in which membership in one of the two main terror groups — Fatah and Hamas — or one of the smaller splinter organizations like Islamic Jihad has been keystone to identity and the ability to get ahead, Fayyad is that rarest of Palestinian birds: a true independent. In a society in which the ability to shed Israeli and Jewish blood has been the only true indicator of street cred, Fayyad has always come up short. Though Abbas and others recognized his ability as well his ability to charm the Americans into keeping U.S. aid flowing to Ramallah, he has never had anything that remotely resembled a political constituency. Palestinians may long for good government and the rule of law as much as any other people, but Fayyad’s platform of cooperation with Israel and peace lacked support.

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There was one point on which both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations as well as the Israeli governments of Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu all agreed upon. All four thought Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was someone who wanted to be a partner for peace with Israel and ought to be encouraged. Fayyad earned almost universal praise from both peace process cheerleaders and skeptics who saw the American-educated technocrat as someone who was devoted to reforming the corrupt and incompetent PA and giving his people something they were denied under the rule of both Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas: good government and economic development.

That Fayyad failed in his efforts is not a matter that most people think is worth debating. The only question is why he didn’t succeed. To that query, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen provides the answer that is his catch-all excuse for anything that goes wrong in the Middle East: Israel. That this onetime apologist for an anti-Semitic Iranian regime prefers to focus on the supposed evils of the Netanyahu government is hardly surprising. But his inability to understand just how isolated Fayyad was in Palestinian society speaks volumes about why most Israel-bashers are clueless about Arab rejectionism.

The most important thing to understand about Fayyad’s place in Palestinian politics is that he has always been a man without a party. In a political culture in which membership in one of the two main terror groups — Fatah and Hamas — or one of the smaller splinter organizations like Islamic Jihad has been keystone to identity and the ability to get ahead, Fayyad is that rarest of Palestinian birds: a true independent. In a society in which the ability to shed Israeli and Jewish blood has been the only true indicator of street cred, Fayyad has always come up short. Though Abbas and others recognized his ability as well his ability to charm the Americans into keeping U.S. aid flowing to Ramallah, he has never had anything that remotely resembled a political constituency. Palestinians may long for good government and the rule of law as much as any other people, but Fayyad’s platform of cooperation with Israel and peace lacked support.

That Fayyad would blame the Israelis rather than his own people for his failure is understandable since to do otherwise would be a death sentence. But his complaints about Israeli settlements or security measures in the West Bank lack credibility. The fact that Israelis have continued to build in Jerusalem and the suburban settlement blocs that everyone understands would remain within Israel in the event of a peace deal renders the charge that they will prevent the creation of a Palestinian state elsewhere absurd. As for Israeli incursions into the West Bank, were Abbas’ security forces interested in foiling terror or stamping out Hamas cells as they are obligated to do under their Oslo commitments, they wouldn’t be necessary. If Israel has sought to exert pressure on the PA it is because Abbas remains determined to avoid peace talks and his governments remains a font of anti-Semitic incitement that lays the foundation for endless conflict.

Cohen’s claim that Netanyahu really doesn’t want peace despite his repeated embrace of a two-state solution to the conflict is merely an attempt to cover up the fact that has always been the Palestinians who have turned down peace and continue to refuse to negotiate with him.

Fayyad claims with Cohen’s approval that the movement to reconcile Fatah and Hams is a sign that the Palestinians are giving up their war on Israel’s existence. But Cohen omits one very relevant fact from his column that undermines the notion that it is Israel that has been Fayyad’s undoing. Fatah and Hamas may never consummate the unity deals they have signed. But the one point on which Abbas has always been ready to concede to Hamas has been firing Fayyad. If Hamas ever does become part of the PA government it will mean the American favorite is toast. The fact is the rise of Hamas, backed as it is by the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt, marks the death knell of any slim hope that Fayyadism has a future.

The Palestinians are choosing, as they have always chosen, to refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Having come into existence solely in order to oppose the return of the Jews to the country, Palestinian nationalism appears incapable of redefining itself in such a way as to give Fayyad a chance. The example of the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza — which has become a platform for terrorism — makes it impossible for Israel to consider further withdrawals that would duplicate that situation in the West Bank.

Were it in the power of either the United States or Israel to make Fayyad the leader of the Palestinians they would do so. But his constituency has always been in Washington, Jerusalem and the international media not among Palestinians. Someday they may be ready for a Fayyad, but that day is not in the foreseeable future.

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Israel’s “True Friends” Don’t Understand What Neighborhood It’s Living In

In a rare moment of perception, Thomas Friedman wrote recently that if you want to be taken seriously in Israel, “there is an unspoken question in the mind of virtually every Israeli that you need to answer correctly: ‘Do you understand what neighborhood I’m living in?’”

What brought this to mind was the latest broadside by Friedman’s fellow New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, who reiterated what has become the favorite mantra not only of those who support Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense, but of liberal American Jewish groups like J Street and even the Union for Reform Judaism: that Israel’s “true friends” are those who tell it, loudly and publicly, that its policies are “self-defeating and wrong,” in an effort to stop what they perceive as its rush to self-destruction. I fully agree that friends should warn against behavior they view as self-destructive. But anyone who thinks that confronting Israel publicly is helping rather than hurting it doesn’t understand what neighborhood Israel is living in.

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In a rare moment of perception, Thomas Friedman wrote recently that if you want to be taken seriously in Israel, “there is an unspoken question in the mind of virtually every Israeli that you need to answer correctly: ‘Do you understand what neighborhood I’m living in?’”

What brought this to mind was the latest broadside by Friedman’s fellow New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, who reiterated what has become the favorite mantra not only of those who support Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense, but of liberal American Jewish groups like J Street and even the Union for Reform Judaism: that Israel’s “true friends” are those who tell it, loudly and publicly, that its policies are “self-defeating and wrong,” in an effort to stop what they perceive as its rush to self-destruction. I fully agree that friends should warn against behavior they view as self-destructive. But anyone who thinks that confronting Israel publicly is helping rather than hurting it doesn’t understand what neighborhood Israel is living in.

As even Cohen acknowledged, Israel has real enemies. He cited Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal’s eliminationist threats; one could quote identical rhetoric from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, “moderate” opponents of Ahmadinejad like former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt. A good example is this clip (courtesy of MEMRI) of Egyptian cleric Mahmoud Al-Masri being interviewed on Egypt’s Al-Nas TV in November: After gleefully prophesying that the Brotherhood’s rise in Egypt and a successful conclusion to the revolution in Syria will enable Egypt and Syria to unite in a war of annihilation against Israel, Al-Masri assures his followers that this is just the beginning: “Ultimately, not a single Jew will be left on the face of the earth.”

So given that lots of people truly want to destroy Israel, how do Israel’s friends keep that from happening? The only way is through deterrence: convincing these enemies that, however much they’d like to annihilate Israel, they lack the capability to succeed. First and foremost, of course, that depends on Israel’s own military capabilities. But it also depends on perceptions of Israel’s international support.

To understand why, it’s worth reviewing that clip of Al-Masri’s, in which he blithely declares that Israel would have been annihilated in 1973 had the superpowers not intervened to stop the war. In reality, that’s nonsense: The war ended with the Israeli army threatening both Cairo and Damascus. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that millions of people all over the Middle East believe it. And they believe the same about Israel’s victories in 1948, 1956, 1967, etc.–that Israel won only thanks to nefarious international assistance.

For that reason, perceptions of Israel’s international support are crucial: The more Israel’s enemies come to believe that Israel’s traditional supporters are drawing away, the more they will believe the ultimate military victory they seek is achievable. And since Israel has no more important supporter than America–its government, its public and its Jewish community–the perception that Americans are drawing away from Israel is particularly harmful. Yet when Israel’s “true friends” in America pick very public fights with it, that’s precisely the perception they create, however unintentionally.

People like Cohen or the leaders of the URJ would be genuinely horrified if Meshaal’s eliminationist vision came to pass. But by their very public broadsides against Israel, they make it far more likely that Israel’s enemies will seriously attempt to realize this vision. Thus with the best of intentions, they are causing Israel enormous harm–just because they refuse to understand what neighborhood it’s living in.

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Broken Clock Alert: Organic, Schmorganic

As Bill Clinton noted so eloquently on Wednesday night, even broken clocks are right twice a day. As I have written in the past, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen is rarely right twice a decade, let alone during a 24-hour period. But every now and then even he can score a bull’s-eye. Cohen has been deceived by some of the most transparent villains on the planet, such as the Islamist regime in Iran that he disgracefully sought to whitewash in 2009 and even claimed they were not anti-Semitic. Cohen is also a dependable supporter of the Palestinians and has little patience with measure of Israeli self-defense.

However, there are some frauds that Cohen is too savvy to accept. Though organic food is all rage among the fashionably liberal and precincts where his left-wing views are received with applause along with the rest of the output of Times writers, Cohen will have none of it. As he writes today, after four decades of research, Stanford University has issued a study declaring that foods labeled “organic” have no greater nutritional value than other food. The same is true for organic meat. Nor are any of these trendy items less likely to have dangerous bacteria like E.coli. As Cohen rightly puts it:

The takeaway from the study could be summed up in two words: Organic, schmorganic. That’s been my feeling for a while.

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As Bill Clinton noted so eloquently on Wednesday night, even broken clocks are right twice a day. As I have written in the past, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen is rarely right twice a decade, let alone during a 24-hour period. But every now and then even he can score a bull’s-eye. Cohen has been deceived by some of the most transparent villains on the planet, such as the Islamist regime in Iran that he disgracefully sought to whitewash in 2009 and even claimed they were not anti-Semitic. Cohen is also a dependable supporter of the Palestinians and has little patience with measure of Israeli self-defense.

However, there are some frauds that Cohen is too savvy to accept. Though organic food is all rage among the fashionably liberal and precincts where his left-wing views are received with applause along with the rest of the output of Times writers, Cohen will have none of it. As he writes today, after four decades of research, Stanford University has issued a study declaring that foods labeled “organic” have no greater nutritional value than other food. The same is true for organic meat. Nor are any of these trendy items less likely to have dangerous bacteria like E.coli. As Cohen rightly puts it:

The takeaway from the study could be summed up in two words: Organic, schmorganic. That’s been my feeling for a while.

Cohen does have some nice things to say about the organic food movement. He likes the fact that it has encouraged small-scale farming, though I think here he is just falling prey to the usual romanticism about old-style agriculture that has little to do with common sense in terms of food production. He also extols its environmental impact, though he acknowledges that organic food requires more land to raise food and that cuts down production and efficiency. He’s right that the organic has led to better labeling and certification.

However, he pretty much nails the foolishness that is at the core of this phenomenon:

Still, the organic ideology is an elitist, pseudoscientific indulgence shot through with hype. There is a niche for it, if you can afford to shop at Whole Foods, but the future is nonorganic.

To feed a planet of 9 billion people, we are going to need high yields not low yields; we are going to need genetically modified crops; we are going to need pesticides and fertilizers and other elements of the industrialized food processes that have led mankind to be better fed and live longer than at any time in history.

I’d rather be against nature and have more people better fed. I’d rather be serious about the world’s needs. And I trust the monitoring agencies that ensure pesticides are used at safe levels — a trust the Stanford study found to be justified. …

Organic is a fable of the pampered parts of the planet — romantic and comforting. Now, thanks to Stanford researchers, we know just how replete with myth the “O” fable is.

Cohen is right on target when he places the welfare of mankind over the pointless and often pagan reverence for notions of nature that have little to do with science or sense. The point of the agriculture industry is to feed the hungry. Organic food may not do much harm but it is largely nonsense.

While I don’t place much hope in the possibility, a column like this leads one to imagine that it might be possible for Roger Cohen to see the light on other topics. Perhaps if we’re patient we may all live to see him right on something else sometime before 2020.

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Iran Declares War on Purim

Less than two years ago, the readers of the New York Times were being treated to Roger Cohen’s tribute to Iran’s supposedly kindly treatment of the remnant of a once-great Jewish community. Cohen’s rosy description of life inside the Islamist republic was widely scorned for his willingness to buy into the lies being peddled by the tyrants of Tehran. The Times columnist’s motive for trying to soften the image of that openly anti-Semitic government was to undermine support for sanctions or the use of force to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The point was that if Iran’s eliminationist rhetoric about the State of Israel could be rationalized or its reputation for Jew-hatred wished away, it would be that much harder to forge an international consensus on the need to stop this regime for gaining nuclear capability.

In the intervening two years since Cohen’s fallacious pro-Iranian broadside, we haven’t heard much about the treatment of the small Jewish community there. But this week, via a report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, we learned that the Iranian news agency FARS has announced that the site of the Tomb of Mordechai and Esther in the city of Hamdan has lost its official status as a religious pilgrimage site. The FARS report says that Iranian children are now being taught that the site, which honors the biblical heroine Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai, who are the central figures in the story of the Jewish holiday of Purim, was “an arm of Israeli imperialism that impugns Iranian sovereignty.” FARS went on to say that the name of the shrine must be obliterated in order to teach Iranians to “beware of the crimes of the Jews.” It goes on to say that the site must become “a Holocaust memorial” to the “Iranian victims of Esther and Mordechai” and be placed under the supervision of the state religious-endowments authority. This is, of course, the same Iranian government that officially denies the fact of the actual Holocaust.

The Iranian account speaks of the events of the Purim story, in which Esther and Mordechai foiled a plan hatched by the King’s minister Haman to exterminate the Jews of the Persian Empire, who then strike back against the forces arrayed to slaughter them.

The action against the tomb appears to be a response to a demonstration by Iranian students who called for its destruction in response to a false report that Israel was digging beneath the al-Aksa mosque in Jerusalem.

While we cannot know whether the Iranians will follow through on this threat and actually tear down the tomb or transform it into a center of anti-Jewish hate, it does provide yet another insight into the virulent nature of the attitudes of those in power there. Not satisfied with whipping up hatred against the State of Israel and the tiny, cowed remnant community that still lives there, the Iranians are now striking out against biblical Jews. The vicious nature of this regime is rooted in a view of Islam that apologists for Tehran have consistently sought to ignore. While the blow against Esther and Mordechai may be purely symbolic, it must be placed in the context of a long-running campaign of incitement against Jews and Israel that makes the possible acquisition of nuclear arms by this country even more alarming.

The Iranian war on Purim makes it even more imperative that they never be allowed to gain the power to do what the ayatollah’s ancient hero Haman attempted: the physical elimination of a Jewish population. Anyone who thinks that we can live with a nuclear Iran needs to consider the madness of allowing a government that thinks the Purim story should be reversed the power to do just that.

Less than two years ago, the readers of the New York Times were being treated to Roger Cohen’s tribute to Iran’s supposedly kindly treatment of the remnant of a once-great Jewish community. Cohen’s rosy description of life inside the Islamist republic was widely scorned for his willingness to buy into the lies being peddled by the tyrants of Tehran. The Times columnist’s motive for trying to soften the image of that openly anti-Semitic government was to undermine support for sanctions or the use of force to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The point was that if Iran’s eliminationist rhetoric about the State of Israel could be rationalized or its reputation for Jew-hatred wished away, it would be that much harder to forge an international consensus on the need to stop this regime for gaining nuclear capability.

In the intervening two years since Cohen’s fallacious pro-Iranian broadside, we haven’t heard much about the treatment of the small Jewish community there. But this week, via a report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, we learned that the Iranian news agency FARS has announced that the site of the Tomb of Mordechai and Esther in the city of Hamdan has lost its official status as a religious pilgrimage site. The FARS report says that Iranian children are now being taught that the site, which honors the biblical heroine Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai, who are the central figures in the story of the Jewish holiday of Purim, was “an arm of Israeli imperialism that impugns Iranian sovereignty.” FARS went on to say that the name of the shrine must be obliterated in order to teach Iranians to “beware of the crimes of the Jews.” It goes on to say that the site must become “a Holocaust memorial” to the “Iranian victims of Esther and Mordechai” and be placed under the supervision of the state religious-endowments authority. This is, of course, the same Iranian government that officially denies the fact of the actual Holocaust.

The Iranian account speaks of the events of the Purim story, in which Esther and Mordechai foiled a plan hatched by the King’s minister Haman to exterminate the Jews of the Persian Empire, who then strike back against the forces arrayed to slaughter them.

The action against the tomb appears to be a response to a demonstration by Iranian students who called for its destruction in response to a false report that Israel was digging beneath the al-Aksa mosque in Jerusalem.

While we cannot know whether the Iranians will follow through on this threat and actually tear down the tomb or transform it into a center of anti-Jewish hate, it does provide yet another insight into the virulent nature of the attitudes of those in power there. Not satisfied with whipping up hatred against the State of Israel and the tiny, cowed remnant community that still lives there, the Iranians are now striking out against biblical Jews. The vicious nature of this regime is rooted in a view of Islam that apologists for Tehran have consistently sought to ignore. While the blow against Esther and Mordechai may be purely symbolic, it must be placed in the context of a long-running campaign of incitement against Jews and Israel that makes the possible acquisition of nuclear arms by this country even more alarming.

The Iranian war on Purim makes it even more imperative that they never be allowed to gain the power to do what the ayatollah’s ancient hero Haman attempted: the physical elimination of a Jewish population. Anyone who thinks that we can live with a nuclear Iran needs to consider the madness of allowing a government that thinks the Purim story should be reversed the power to do just that.

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Morning Commentary

As the GOP prepares to read the Constitution on the floor of the House this morning — in a nod to the new Tea Party members of Congress — Seth Lipsky discusses why the reading of the founding document irks the left so much.

Robert Gibbs seems pretty excited to leave the White House for the private sector: “‘The best service I can provide this president is, for the next couple of years, outside this building,’ said Gibbs, who announced Wednesday that he would leave his press secretary job in early February. He will then hit the lucrative speaking circuit and become a paid consultant to the Obama reelection campaign.” And the search for Gibbs’s successor is on. The White House is reportedly looking past in-house candidates, like Joe Biden’s spokesman Bill Burton and Obama deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, and considering outsiders like former DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney.

Lee Smith explains the “condescending moral double standard” that allows Western intellectuals like Roger Cohen to call themselves “liberals” while ignoring, excusing, or praising the murderous actions of the Middle East’s most illiberal regimes: “[L]ike many other Western observers of the Middle East, [Cohen] uses the region as a kind of virtual reality screen on which to project a self-congratulatory vision of a world in which superior beings like himself can naturally expect to live under the sign of law, civility, and morality while lesser beings in other parts of the world are quite naturally ruled by violence.”

David Ignatius is terribly, terribly concerned that the new head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican Darrell Issa, may be the new Joe McCarthy: “It was scary, frankly, to hear Issa describe the executive branch under President Obama as ‘one of the most corrupt administrations.’…When you see the righteous gleam in Issa’s eye, recall other zealous congressional investigators who claimed to be doing the public’s business but ended up pursuing vendettas.”

As the GOP prepares to read the Constitution on the floor of the House this morning — in a nod to the new Tea Party members of Congress — Seth Lipsky discusses why the reading of the founding document irks the left so much.

Robert Gibbs seems pretty excited to leave the White House for the private sector: “‘The best service I can provide this president is, for the next couple of years, outside this building,’ said Gibbs, who announced Wednesday that he would leave his press secretary job in early February. He will then hit the lucrative speaking circuit and become a paid consultant to the Obama reelection campaign.” And the search for Gibbs’s successor is on. The White House is reportedly looking past in-house candidates, like Joe Biden’s spokesman Bill Burton and Obama deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, and considering outsiders like former DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney.

Lee Smith explains the “condescending moral double standard” that allows Western intellectuals like Roger Cohen to call themselves “liberals” while ignoring, excusing, or praising the murderous actions of the Middle East’s most illiberal regimes: “[L]ike many other Western observers of the Middle East, [Cohen] uses the region as a kind of virtual reality screen on which to project a self-congratulatory vision of a world in which superior beings like himself can naturally expect to live under the sign of law, civility, and morality while lesser beings in other parts of the world are quite naturally ruled by violence.”

David Ignatius is terribly, terribly concerned that the new head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican Darrell Issa, may be the new Joe McCarthy: “It was scary, frankly, to hear Issa describe the executive branch under President Obama as ‘one of the most corrupt administrations.’…When you see the righteous gleam in Issa’s eye, recall other zealous congressional investigators who claimed to be doing the public’s business but ended up pursuing vendettas.”

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We Get It — They’re Just Like Us

Why do apologists for authoritarian regimes always cite the diversity of the impacted people as evidence of the regime’s moderate governance and of the reader’s ignorance?   “[I]n China as a whole, discrete zones of freedom exist alongside governmental repression, and the view of a homogenized, blinkered populace is highly misleading,” writes Iain Mills  in World Politics Review. “Rather, Chinese society is diverse and dynamic, and so is the distribution of freedom and repression within it.” To whom is Mills ascribing this view of China’s people as a “blinkered populace”? Those of us who want to see Beijing release its Nobel Prize–winning thinkers from jail? Those of us who believe the Chinese should have unfettered Internet access and a right to redress their leaders without fear of punishment?

To Mills, somehow pointing out government oppression is synonymous with assuming the existence of a zombie public. As inexplicable as this intellectual shell game is, it is not uncommon. This is exactly what we heard from Tehran apologists in 2009, during the run-up to the fraudulent June 12 presidential election and the deadly crackdown that followed it. “Iranians are property-buying, car-mad, entrepreneurial consumers with a taste for the latest brands,” wrote the New York Times’s Roger Cohen in February of that year. “Forget about nukes. Think Nikes,” he urged, before closing on this recommendation: “America, think again about Iran.” I hope the Iranians had their Nikes on four months later when they had to run from Revolutionary Guard clubs and bullets.

It is precisely because Americans do not assume the people in authoritarian countries to be thoughtless automatons that we recognize the tragedy of their lot. The fact of individualism and the recognition that people in other countries harbor the same hopes and dreams of all human beings are the most elemental aspects of support for political freedoms. A defense of a country’s population is not a defense of its authoritarian leaders; it is an indictment of them.

Why do apologists for authoritarian regimes always cite the diversity of the impacted people as evidence of the regime’s moderate governance and of the reader’s ignorance?   “[I]n China as a whole, discrete zones of freedom exist alongside governmental repression, and the view of a homogenized, blinkered populace is highly misleading,” writes Iain Mills  in World Politics Review. “Rather, Chinese society is diverse and dynamic, and so is the distribution of freedom and repression within it.” To whom is Mills ascribing this view of China’s people as a “blinkered populace”? Those of us who want to see Beijing release its Nobel Prize–winning thinkers from jail? Those of us who believe the Chinese should have unfettered Internet access and a right to redress their leaders without fear of punishment?

To Mills, somehow pointing out government oppression is synonymous with assuming the existence of a zombie public. As inexplicable as this intellectual shell game is, it is not uncommon. This is exactly what we heard from Tehran apologists in 2009, during the run-up to the fraudulent June 12 presidential election and the deadly crackdown that followed it. “Iranians are property-buying, car-mad, entrepreneurial consumers with a taste for the latest brands,” wrote the New York Times’s Roger Cohen in February of that year. “Forget about nukes. Think Nikes,” he urged, before closing on this recommendation: “America, think again about Iran.” I hope the Iranians had their Nikes on four months later when they had to run from Revolutionary Guard clubs and bullets.

It is precisely because Americans do not assume the people in authoritarian countries to be thoughtless automatons that we recognize the tragedy of their lot. The fact of individualism and the recognition that people in other countries harbor the same hopes and dreams of all human beings are the most elemental aspects of support for political freedoms. A defense of a country’s population is not a defense of its authoritarian leaders; it is an indictment of them.

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Israel’s Critics Cry About Being Repressed … from Their Usual Soapbox at the New York Times

That the New York Times’s Roger Cohen has a problem with Israel is not exactly a secret. As far as he is concerned, the country’s democratically elected government and the people who elected it don’t measure up to his moral standards. Moreover, he and those who share his views, like writer Peter Beinart, think that any Jewish or non-Jewish friends of Israel who prefer to focus their efforts on continuing to defend Israel against an Arab/Muslim siege and anti-Zionist campaigners who seek to isolate it rather than spend their time flaying it for perceived sins are also not living up to the standards they are setting for them.

Today Cohen weighs in again to tell the sad tale of a liberal American who went to Israel to work for left-wing causes there and claims to have gotten into a scuffle with right-wingers after a demonstration in Tel Aviv during which he and his friends waved signs that said “Zionists Are Not Settlers.” Politics in Israel can be a bit rougher than what we’re used to here in America, but there’s no excuse for violence. It would have been far better for his antagonists to merely point out that Zionists have always been “settlers,” since there would be no state of Israel had not some Jews had the chutzpah to jump-start the rebirth of Jewish life in the Jewish homeland by planting roots in places where Arabs didn’t want them to be. Like, for example, the metropolis of Tel Aviv, where the demonstration took place, which a century ago was nothing but a small annoying Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Arab Jaffa.

But Cohen isn’t content to merely blackguard Israelis or their supporters. In order to put forward his argument in a way in which those who agree with him can be portrayed as victims rather than judgmental critics who don’t understand Israel’s dilemma, he has to claim that their views are being suppressed. Thus, it isn’t enough for him to promote the views of the left-wing lobby J Street or to echo the arguments of Beinart about Israel’s moral failures; he must also claim that the “debate remains stifled.” Read More

That the New York Times’s Roger Cohen has a problem with Israel is not exactly a secret. As far as he is concerned, the country’s democratically elected government and the people who elected it don’t measure up to his moral standards. Moreover, he and those who share his views, like writer Peter Beinart, think that any Jewish or non-Jewish friends of Israel who prefer to focus their efforts on continuing to defend Israel against an Arab/Muslim siege and anti-Zionist campaigners who seek to isolate it rather than spend their time flaying it for perceived sins are also not living up to the standards they are setting for them.

Today Cohen weighs in again to tell the sad tale of a liberal American who went to Israel to work for left-wing causes there and claims to have gotten into a scuffle with right-wingers after a demonstration in Tel Aviv during which he and his friends waved signs that said “Zionists Are Not Settlers.” Politics in Israel can be a bit rougher than what we’re used to here in America, but there’s no excuse for violence. It would have been far better for his antagonists to merely point out that Zionists have always been “settlers,” since there would be no state of Israel had not some Jews had the chutzpah to jump-start the rebirth of Jewish life in the Jewish homeland by planting roots in places where Arabs didn’t want them to be. Like, for example, the metropolis of Tel Aviv, where the demonstration took place, which a century ago was nothing but a small annoying Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Arab Jaffa.

But Cohen isn’t content to merely blackguard Israelis or their supporters. In order to put forward his argument in a way in which those who agree with him can be portrayed as victims rather than judgmental critics who don’t understand Israel’s dilemma, he has to claim that their views are being suppressed. Thus, it isn’t enough for him to promote the views of the left-wing lobby J Street or to echo the arguments of Beinart about Israel’s moral failures; he must also claim that the “debate remains stifled.”

What is his proof? Because left-wingers who tried to disrupt a speech being given by Israel’s prime minster were “dragged out” of the auditorium where Netanyahu was trying to speak in New Orleans. Never mind that if someone tried to do that to President Obama, he’d be arrested. What else? Because one synagogue in Massachusetts decided not to host a J Street leader. Shocking. Want more? Cohen claims that AIPAC, a vast group with across-the-board support from American Jews, won’t debate J Street, a small group largely funded by financier George Soros (though the group spent years inexplicably lying about Soros’s role in propping up this Potemkin organization) that is dedicated to supporting American pressure on Israel. Even worse, the young Jew whose story Cohen tells is getting some negative feedback from friends about his J Street activities. Isn’t that awful?

The truth is, despite promoting itself as the liberal alternative to AIPAC, a stance that ought to make it popular due to the fact that most Jews are liberals, J Street has little grassroots Jewish support. That’s because it has systematically taken stands on Israel’s right to self-defense and the nuclear threat from Iran that strike most Jews as being outside the pro-Israel consensus. But far from being silenced, J Street is the darling of a mainstream media that has consistently promoted it, especially in places where Israel’s supporters have trouble making their voices heard. Like the opinion pages of the New York Times.

But Cohen did get one thing right. He notes in passing that the administration’s latest attempt to pressure Israel failed because “President Barack Obama had virtually no domestic constituency” for his policy. This is absolutely true. The vast majority of Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, support the Jewish state and oppose twisting its arm in this manner. That they hold to this belief despite the constant drumbeat of attacks on Israel, such as those by Cohen, his Times colleague Nicholas Kristof, and Peter Beinart, speaks volumes about how marginal J Street still is.

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Settlement Freeze: An Unacceptable Veto

It has always been the case that Israel’s government would have to choose, at some point, to lift the freeze on settlement construction. The reason is simple: Israel can’t give anyone else an effective veto over settlement activities. Protecting settlements in Judea and Samaria is a matter of national security: it prevents the Palestinian Arabs from using the territory to menace Israelis across the Green Line. Past Israeli withdrawals from strategic or disputed territories have produced ever-present menaces along its other boundaries, as demonstrated in Gaza and the Hezbollah fiefdom in southern Lebanon. The West Bank, moreover, is an even more dangerous case from a geographic standpoint, because its mountainous heights look down on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the heart of Israel’s national and economic life.

In the absence of an enforceable, good-faith agreement with the Palestinian Authority, Israel can’t let either the PA or the U.S. exercise a de facto veto over its administration of the settlements. The right to such a veto, once established, would be wielded in incremental steps to prejudice Israel’s security and bargaining position. It would amount to much more than a minor concession in the interest of the current talks. Accepting a de facto settlement veto would open the door to a campaign of attrition against the settlements, just as it would validate the Palestinian negotiating principle of winning major and debilitating concessions as a prior condition of talks — and therefore without the Palestinians themselves having to commit to anything.

In light of this reality, the lament of Roger Cohen in the New York Times today is both ironic and poignant. If the talks break down over the settlement issue, says Cohen, “Netanyahu and Abbas know … Obama would look amateurish.” It would be a “terrible mistake,” in his view, for Netanyahu to reject a formal extension of the settlement freeze. He and Abbas both need the United States, which is “an incentive to avoid humiliating Obama.” Obama himself “should fight it until the last minute. His international credibility is on the line.”

But it’s Obama who put himself in this position. He and his foreign-policy team are amateurish; that’s the whole problem. Regardless of whether they agree with Israel’s view of the settlements and their relation to national security, they should have understood and acknowledged it as real. No negotiations can succeed if the concerns of one party are ignored or dismissed. For that party, accepting the breakdown of negotiations is likely to be the lesser of two evils.

Netanyahu must lift the settlement freeze sometime, and the longer he waits, the more of a political disruption it will be.  He can’t let it become the status quo by default. He may yet find some way to navigate between two difficult positions, at least for another few weeks. But ultimately, his obligation is to the security of Israel. I believe that will be at least as much of a motive for him as retaining his coalition in the Knesset.

Obama’s credibility, meanwhile, is Obama’s problem. If he wants to see it undamaged, he could not do better than to learn from the present impasse and avoid backing himself into a corner again. Roger Cohen may think it’s a good idea to bolster Obama’s credibility with unilateral security concessions from Israel, but it’s a good bet Bibi doesn’t.

It has always been the case that Israel’s government would have to choose, at some point, to lift the freeze on settlement construction. The reason is simple: Israel can’t give anyone else an effective veto over settlement activities. Protecting settlements in Judea and Samaria is a matter of national security: it prevents the Palestinian Arabs from using the territory to menace Israelis across the Green Line. Past Israeli withdrawals from strategic or disputed territories have produced ever-present menaces along its other boundaries, as demonstrated in Gaza and the Hezbollah fiefdom in southern Lebanon. The West Bank, moreover, is an even more dangerous case from a geographic standpoint, because its mountainous heights look down on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the heart of Israel’s national and economic life.

In the absence of an enforceable, good-faith agreement with the Palestinian Authority, Israel can’t let either the PA or the U.S. exercise a de facto veto over its administration of the settlements. The right to such a veto, once established, would be wielded in incremental steps to prejudice Israel’s security and bargaining position. It would amount to much more than a minor concession in the interest of the current talks. Accepting a de facto settlement veto would open the door to a campaign of attrition against the settlements, just as it would validate the Palestinian negotiating principle of winning major and debilitating concessions as a prior condition of talks — and therefore without the Palestinians themselves having to commit to anything.

In light of this reality, the lament of Roger Cohen in the New York Times today is both ironic and poignant. If the talks break down over the settlement issue, says Cohen, “Netanyahu and Abbas know … Obama would look amateurish.” It would be a “terrible mistake,” in his view, for Netanyahu to reject a formal extension of the settlement freeze. He and Abbas both need the United States, which is “an incentive to avoid humiliating Obama.” Obama himself “should fight it until the last minute. His international credibility is on the line.”

But it’s Obama who put himself in this position. He and his foreign-policy team are amateurish; that’s the whole problem. Regardless of whether they agree with Israel’s view of the settlements and their relation to national security, they should have understood and acknowledged it as real. No negotiations can succeed if the concerns of one party are ignored or dismissed. For that party, accepting the breakdown of negotiations is likely to be the lesser of two evils.

Netanyahu must lift the settlement freeze sometime, and the longer he waits, the more of a political disruption it will be.  He can’t let it become the status quo by default. He may yet find some way to navigate between two difficult positions, at least for another few weeks. But ultimately, his obligation is to the security of Israel. I believe that will be at least as much of a motive for him as retaining his coalition in the Knesset.

Obama’s credibility, meanwhile, is Obama’s problem. If he wants to see it undamaged, he could not do better than to learn from the present impasse and avoid backing himself into a corner again. Roger Cohen may think it’s a good idea to bolster Obama’s credibility with unilateral security concessions from Israel, but it’s a good bet Bibi doesn’t.

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No, It’s Not Because He’s a Muslim

You could waste a lifetime doing nothing but debunking Roger Cohen’s inanities, so I don’t usually bother. But this time, the star New York Times columnist ostensibly poses a reasonable question: why aren’t the official America and the media raising an outcry over the death of an American citizen in Israel’s May raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla?

Cohen’s answer is that Americans don’t care because Furkan Dogan was a Muslim. And to prove it, Cohen does his best to paint the 19-year-old as a secular saint whom Americans ought to care deeply about: Dogan “was proud of his American passport and dreamt of coming back [to America] after completing medical school. … [He] had just completed high school with excellent grades. … [He was] little interested in politics, but with an aspiring doctor’s concern for Palestinian suffering.”

Yet anyone who knows anything about the flotilla knows that Dogan was almost certainly nothing of the sort. The video footage of Turkish “humanitarians” aboard the Mavi Marmara – who carefully prepared their weapons and then brutally beat the commandos who rappelled from a chopper from the moment they landed — makes it clear that: a) the Turks attacked first with malice aforethought; and b) pretty much everyone on deck participated in the attack. Indeed, passengers and crew members later testified that the thugs had ordered all noncombatants below deck before the Israeli forces approached.

Moreover, photos of the battered, bloody Israeli commandos make it clear they had good reason to think their lives in danger and to open fire in self-defense.

And there’s another pesky fact Cohen should certainly know, as his own paper reported it: Dogan’s brother Mustafa was quoted by the Turkish daily Zaman afterward as saying that “we were not sorry to hear that he fell like a martyr.”

Americans have become all too familiar over the last decade with the kind of Muslims who laud “martyrdom.” They’re the ones who committed the 9/11 attacks and the Fort Hood Massacre; the ones who tried and failed to blow up an airliner last Christmas and to explode a bomb in Times Square this spring. And therefore, most Americans don’t have much use for the type.

In short, anyone who knows anything about the flotilla lacks sympathy for Dogan because of his behavior, not his religion.

But what about that vast majority of Americans who don’t know any of the above? Why don’t they care?

It’s very simple: they don’t care because Dogan moved back to Turkey with his family 17 years ago at the age of two. In other words, he’s primarily a Turk, not an American. It’s the same reason official America and the media have never shown any interest in the many American-Israelis killed by Palestinian suicide bombers: Americans tend to conclude that someone who has chosen to live outside America is primarily the responsibility of the country he (or, in this case, his parents) adopted, not the one he left.

It’s a perfectly reasonable conclusion. Only Roger Cohen could make it into evidence of anti-Muslim bias.

You could waste a lifetime doing nothing but debunking Roger Cohen’s inanities, so I don’t usually bother. But this time, the star New York Times columnist ostensibly poses a reasonable question: why aren’t the official America and the media raising an outcry over the death of an American citizen in Israel’s May raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla?

Cohen’s answer is that Americans don’t care because Furkan Dogan was a Muslim. And to prove it, Cohen does his best to paint the 19-year-old as a secular saint whom Americans ought to care deeply about: Dogan “was proud of his American passport and dreamt of coming back [to America] after completing medical school. … [He] had just completed high school with excellent grades. … [He was] little interested in politics, but with an aspiring doctor’s concern for Palestinian suffering.”

Yet anyone who knows anything about the flotilla knows that Dogan was almost certainly nothing of the sort. The video footage of Turkish “humanitarians” aboard the Mavi Marmara – who carefully prepared their weapons and then brutally beat the commandos who rappelled from a chopper from the moment they landed — makes it clear that: a) the Turks attacked first with malice aforethought; and b) pretty much everyone on deck participated in the attack. Indeed, passengers and crew members later testified that the thugs had ordered all noncombatants below deck before the Israeli forces approached.

Moreover, photos of the battered, bloody Israeli commandos make it clear they had good reason to think their lives in danger and to open fire in self-defense.

And there’s another pesky fact Cohen should certainly know, as his own paper reported it: Dogan’s brother Mustafa was quoted by the Turkish daily Zaman afterward as saying that “we were not sorry to hear that he fell like a martyr.”

Americans have become all too familiar over the last decade with the kind of Muslims who laud “martyrdom.” They’re the ones who committed the 9/11 attacks and the Fort Hood Massacre; the ones who tried and failed to blow up an airliner last Christmas and to explode a bomb in Times Square this spring. And therefore, most Americans don’t have much use for the type.

In short, anyone who knows anything about the flotilla lacks sympathy for Dogan because of his behavior, not his religion.

But what about that vast majority of Americans who don’t know any of the above? Why don’t they care?

It’s very simple: they don’t care because Dogan moved back to Turkey with his family 17 years ago at the age of two. In other words, he’s primarily a Turk, not an American. It’s the same reason official America and the media have never shown any interest in the many American-Israelis killed by Palestinian suicide bombers: Americans tend to conclude that someone who has chosen to live outside America is primarily the responsibility of the country he (or, in this case, his parents) adopted, not the one he left.

It’s a perfectly reasonable conclusion. Only Roger Cohen could make it into evidence of anti-Muslim bias.

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The Purpose of the Proximity Talks

The newly launched Israeli-Palestinian “proximity talks” have two remarkable features. One is the consensus, even among doves, that the talks have no chance of success. The other is the consensus that the onus for their success rests entirely on Israel.

Regarding the first, here are two of many examples: David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, once an enthusiastic peace-processor, warned last month that “whenever it is all-or-nothing in the Middle East, it is nothing. We should not set ourselves up for failure.” Avi Issacharoff, who covers Palestinian affairs for left-wing Haaretz, published an analysis whose title says it all: “Indirect Mideast peace talks – a highway to failure.”

Regarding the second, even Barack Obama’s media cheerleader-in-chief, Roger Cohen of the New York Times, noticed the embarrassing imbalance: “Israel will refrain from provocations of the Ramat Shlomo kind (those planned 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem) and will promise to get substantive, on borders above all. Palestinians will promise to, well, show up.”

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was explicit about it. Addressing the American Jewish Committee last month, she declared: “Israel must do its part by respecting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, stopping settlement activity, addressing the humanitarian needs in Gaza, and supporting the institution-building efforts of the Palestinian Authority.” The Arab states also have obligations, like helping to fund the PA and backing its negotiating efforts. And the PA’s obligations? About that, she hadn’t a word to say.

Putting these two facts together, what emerges? Noah suggested that the talks’ inevitable failure is actually the point, as it will give Obama an excuse for imposing his own peace plan. I agree with the first half of this conclusion. But if the goal were merely an Obama peace plan, it wouldn’t be necessary to place the onus on Israel in advance: any impasse, regardless of who was to blame, would provide an equally good excuse.

Therefore, I think the goal is simpler: to provide an excuse for putting more “daylight” between America and Israel — presumably entailing substantive sanctions rather than merely the hostile rhetoric employed hitherto — and thereby further Obama’s goal of rapprochement with the Arab world.

Why is the proximity-talks charade necessary? Because currently, Obama lacks both public and congressional support for moving beyond mere verbal hostility. If he didn’t realize this before, the backlash to his March temper tantrum over Ramat Shlomo would certainly have convinced him.

So he needs to up the ante by painting Israel’s government as responsible for torpedoing a key American foreign-policy initiative — one he has repeatedly framed as serving both a vital American national interest and a vital Israeli one. He could then argue not only that Israel deserves punishment but that such punishment would actually serve Israel’s interests.

To avoid this trap, Jerusalem must launch its own PR campaign in America now to put the focus back where it belongs: on Palestinian unwillingness to accept a Jewish state. For if Israel lets Obama control the narrative, the public and congressional support on which it depends may be irretrievably undermined.

The newly launched Israeli-Palestinian “proximity talks” have two remarkable features. One is the consensus, even among doves, that the talks have no chance of success. The other is the consensus that the onus for their success rests entirely on Israel.

Regarding the first, here are two of many examples: David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, once an enthusiastic peace-processor, warned last month that “whenever it is all-or-nothing in the Middle East, it is nothing. We should not set ourselves up for failure.” Avi Issacharoff, who covers Palestinian affairs for left-wing Haaretz, published an analysis whose title says it all: “Indirect Mideast peace talks – a highway to failure.”

Regarding the second, even Barack Obama’s media cheerleader-in-chief, Roger Cohen of the New York Times, noticed the embarrassing imbalance: “Israel will refrain from provocations of the Ramat Shlomo kind (those planned 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem) and will promise to get substantive, on borders above all. Palestinians will promise to, well, show up.”

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was explicit about it. Addressing the American Jewish Committee last month, she declared: “Israel must do its part by respecting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, stopping settlement activity, addressing the humanitarian needs in Gaza, and supporting the institution-building efforts of the Palestinian Authority.” The Arab states also have obligations, like helping to fund the PA and backing its negotiating efforts. And the PA’s obligations? About that, she hadn’t a word to say.

Putting these two facts together, what emerges? Noah suggested that the talks’ inevitable failure is actually the point, as it will give Obama an excuse for imposing his own peace plan. I agree with the first half of this conclusion. But if the goal were merely an Obama peace plan, it wouldn’t be necessary to place the onus on Israel in advance: any impasse, regardless of who was to blame, would provide an equally good excuse.

Therefore, I think the goal is simpler: to provide an excuse for putting more “daylight” between America and Israel — presumably entailing substantive sanctions rather than merely the hostile rhetoric employed hitherto — and thereby further Obama’s goal of rapprochement with the Arab world.

Why is the proximity-talks charade necessary? Because currently, Obama lacks both public and congressional support for moving beyond mere verbal hostility. If he didn’t realize this before, the backlash to his March temper tantrum over Ramat Shlomo would certainly have convinced him.

So he needs to up the ante by painting Israel’s government as responsible for torpedoing a key American foreign-policy initiative — one he has repeatedly framed as serving both a vital American national interest and a vital Israeli one. He could then argue not only that Israel deserves punishment but that such punishment would actually serve Israel’s interests.

To avoid this trap, Jerusalem must launch its own PR campaign in America now to put the focus back where it belongs: on Palestinian unwillingness to accept a Jewish state. For if Israel lets Obama control the narrative, the public and congressional support on which it depends may be irretrievably undermined.

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Mearsheimer Makes a List

John Mearsheimer gave a speech at the Palestine Center in Washington yesterday and called Israel an apartheid state that has practiced ethnic cleansing and will likely practice it in the future. For Mearsheimer, this is standard practice. But he added a new twist: he separated American Jews into three categories: “Righteous Jews,” “New Afrikaners,” and a middle group of Jews who aren’t quite sure whether they’re righteous or ethnic cleansers. These are Mearsheimer’s Righteous Jews:

To give you a better sense of what I mean when I use the term righteous Jews, let me give you some names of people and organizations that I would put in this category. The list would include Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss fame, just to name a few. I would also include many of the individuals associated with J Street and everyone associated with Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as distinguished international figures such as Judge Richard Goldstone. Furthermore, I would apply the label to the many American Jews who work for different human rights organizations, such as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch.

And then there are America’s Afrikaner Jews, who are not just apologists for apartheid and ethnic cleansing, but are actually a fifth column. Note that he goes beyond the normal “dual loyalty” trope and says that these American Jews are “blindly loyal” only to Israel:

These are individuals who will back Israel no matter what it does, because they have blind loyalty to the Jewish state. … I would classify most of the individuals who head the Israel lobby’s major organizations as new Afrikaners. That list would include Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress, and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, just to name some of the more prominent ones. I would also include businessmen like Sheldon Adelson, Lester Crown, and Mortimer Zuckerman as well as media personalities like Fred Hiatt and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Martin Peretz of the New Republic. It would be easy to add more names to this list.

I believe Mearsheimer left out a category: “Anti-Semites and Jew-Baiters.” I will leave it to you who to add to that list.

UPDATE: David Bernstein adds his thoughts over at Volokh.

John Mearsheimer gave a speech at the Palestine Center in Washington yesterday and called Israel an apartheid state that has practiced ethnic cleansing and will likely practice it in the future. For Mearsheimer, this is standard practice. But he added a new twist: he separated American Jews into three categories: “Righteous Jews,” “New Afrikaners,” and a middle group of Jews who aren’t quite sure whether they’re righteous or ethnic cleansers. These are Mearsheimer’s Righteous Jews:

To give you a better sense of what I mean when I use the term righteous Jews, let me give you some names of people and organizations that I would put in this category. The list would include Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss fame, just to name a few. I would also include many of the individuals associated with J Street and everyone associated with Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as distinguished international figures such as Judge Richard Goldstone. Furthermore, I would apply the label to the many American Jews who work for different human rights organizations, such as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch.

And then there are America’s Afrikaner Jews, who are not just apologists for apartheid and ethnic cleansing, but are actually a fifth column. Note that he goes beyond the normal “dual loyalty” trope and says that these American Jews are “blindly loyal” only to Israel:

These are individuals who will back Israel no matter what it does, because they have blind loyalty to the Jewish state. … I would classify most of the individuals who head the Israel lobby’s major organizations as new Afrikaners. That list would include Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress, and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, just to name some of the more prominent ones. I would also include businessmen like Sheldon Adelson, Lester Crown, and Mortimer Zuckerman as well as media personalities like Fred Hiatt and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Martin Peretz of the New Republic. It would be easy to add more names to this list.

I believe Mearsheimer left out a category: “Anti-Semites and Jew-Baiters.” I will leave it to you who to add to that list.

UPDATE: David Bernstein adds his thoughts over at Volokh.

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Obama Does the Palestinians No Favors

One disastrous result among many of Obama’s assault on Israel has been to reduce Mahmoud Abbas’s stature and deal-making ability. That seems counterintuitive; Obama is now parroting the Palestinian line and doing their bargaining for them. But Elliott Abrams spots signs that all of this has merely paralyzed Abbas and reduced to him to vassal-like status while elevating the authority of Arab obstructionists. He writes:

First, Abbas is now refusing to make any decision about peace, instead deferring to Arab states. With all the talk about the critical importance of Palestinian independence, this is a giant–even historic–step backwards. His motivations are not complex: He wants to avoid Palestinian and wider Arab criticism. As long as he follows Arab League strictures he will. But the price paid is hugely reduced flexibility, and a return to the days when the Palestinians were under the control of Arab states rather than masters of their own future.

Second, putting the Arab League in charge magnifies the influence of bad actors. To get negotiations going, the Obama administration now has to convince not only Abbas, but Bashar al Assad. Perhaps this helps explain why George Mitchell has visited Damascus and why the administration persists in “outreach” to Syria despite its continuing evil conduct (most recently, reports of the shipment of Scud missiles to Hezbollah). Having committed itself to the “peace process,” the administration simply cannot afford to treat Syria as it deserves; Syria has too much clout now.

So to review the handiwork of the Obami: they have taken a wrecking ball to the U.S.-Israel relationship, emboldened and empowered Syria and its senior partner Iran, distracted us from the most critical issue in the Middle East (Iran’s nuclear program), encouraged Palestinian rejectionism and victimology, and demonstrated that the U.S. is a feckless ally. It’s remarkable that so much damage could be done in a mere fifteen months. Is the Middle East closer to peace or to war (multiple ones, in fact)? Is the peace process reducing or inflaming tensions? The likes of Roger Cohen and George Mitchell would have us celebrate the good intentions of Obama; but whatever Obama’s intentions, he must — and will — be judged on the results of his approach, which are potentially catastrophic for Israel’s security and for ours. And really, he has not even helped the cause of his Palestinian clients. No wonder his spinners would rather coo over his intentions.

One disastrous result among many of Obama’s assault on Israel has been to reduce Mahmoud Abbas’s stature and deal-making ability. That seems counterintuitive; Obama is now parroting the Palestinian line and doing their bargaining for them. But Elliott Abrams spots signs that all of this has merely paralyzed Abbas and reduced to him to vassal-like status while elevating the authority of Arab obstructionists. He writes:

First, Abbas is now refusing to make any decision about peace, instead deferring to Arab states. With all the talk about the critical importance of Palestinian independence, this is a giant–even historic–step backwards. His motivations are not complex: He wants to avoid Palestinian and wider Arab criticism. As long as he follows Arab League strictures he will. But the price paid is hugely reduced flexibility, and a return to the days when the Palestinians were under the control of Arab states rather than masters of their own future.

Second, putting the Arab League in charge magnifies the influence of bad actors. To get negotiations going, the Obama administration now has to convince not only Abbas, but Bashar al Assad. Perhaps this helps explain why George Mitchell has visited Damascus and why the administration persists in “outreach” to Syria despite its continuing evil conduct (most recently, reports of the shipment of Scud missiles to Hezbollah). Having committed itself to the “peace process,” the administration simply cannot afford to treat Syria as it deserves; Syria has too much clout now.

So to review the handiwork of the Obami: they have taken a wrecking ball to the U.S.-Israel relationship, emboldened and empowered Syria and its senior partner Iran, distracted us from the most critical issue in the Middle East (Iran’s nuclear program), encouraged Palestinian rejectionism and victimology, and demonstrated that the U.S. is a feckless ally. It’s remarkable that so much damage could be done in a mere fifteen months. Is the Middle East closer to peace or to war (multiple ones, in fact)? Is the peace process reducing or inflaming tensions? The likes of Roger Cohen and George Mitchell would have us celebrate the good intentions of Obama; but whatever Obama’s intentions, he must — and will — be judged on the results of his approach, which are potentially catastrophic for Israel’s security and for ours. And really, he has not even helped the cause of his Palestinian clients. No wonder his spinners would rather coo over his intentions.

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Cohen Flacks for George Mitchell

A reader calls my attention to the latest noxious column by Roger Cohen. On full display is the mutual suck-uppery between the Gray Lady’s incessant Israel basher and the administration’s hapless peace processor, George Mitchell. Cohen writes of Mitchell:

He was asked about Netanyahu during his visit and, according to notes I saw, responded: “I believe Netanyahu is serious, capable and interested in reaching an agreement. What I cannot say is if he is willing to agree to what is needed to secure an agreement.”

That meeting concluded with Mitchell saying: “You asked if I think Netanyahu is serious. They ask the same question. You are an expert on Palestinian and Israeli politics. They are the same. But no one in the world knows American politics better than me, and this I will say. There has never been in the White House a president that is so committed on this issue, including Clinton who is a personal friend, and there will never be, at least not in the lifetime of anyone in this room.”

Let’s examine that a bit. Is the PA serious about peace? Is there any indication that the Palestinians are “serious, capable, and interested” in reaching an agreement? Cohen doesn’t bother to ask, for the answer would either strain even the most deluded peace-process fan’s credulity or reveal that, of course, the Palestinians aren’t serious — that’s why they must be lured, bribed, and cajoled to meet not-even-face-to-face with the Israelis.

Next. Mitchell — no doubt speaking slowly so Cohen can record every word of praise — tells his scribe what an “expert” on the Middle East he is. Hmm. Does that include Cohen’s quasi recantation of his views on Iran? But then Mitchell isn’t done — because no one, not a soul knows American politics like George Mitchell. Apparently, he’s working on that little problem which is that two-thirds of the public disapprove of his Middle East policy. (And, really, Mitchell is wasted in the Middle East. With Obama in the 40s in approval polls, shouldn’t Mitchell be chief of staff? You know, have a real job where his skills won’t be wasted in 16 months of fruitless Middle East shuttling.) And then he delivers the final masterstroke of ingratiation and puffery – Hillary, close your ears — “There has never been in the White House a president that is so committed on this issue, including Clinton who is a personal friend, and there will never be, at least not in the lifetime of anyone in this room.” Not Clinton. Not anyone. And Obama is so committed that he’s accomplished what, exactly? Ah, strained Israeli relations to the breaking point, encouraged Palestinian intransigence, induced moderate Arabs to up the ante against Israel, and driven his own poll ratings in Israel into the low single digits. But it’s his intentions that matter, you see.

Really, even for Cohen — and for Mitchell — this is embarrassing stuff. But it does reveal how tone-deaf both are, and how they imagine that grandiose intentions replace results, and that self-definition supersedes reality. You can understand why Obama’s Middle East policy is such a mess.

A reader calls my attention to the latest noxious column by Roger Cohen. On full display is the mutual suck-uppery between the Gray Lady’s incessant Israel basher and the administration’s hapless peace processor, George Mitchell. Cohen writes of Mitchell:

He was asked about Netanyahu during his visit and, according to notes I saw, responded: “I believe Netanyahu is serious, capable and interested in reaching an agreement. What I cannot say is if he is willing to agree to what is needed to secure an agreement.”

That meeting concluded with Mitchell saying: “You asked if I think Netanyahu is serious. They ask the same question. You are an expert on Palestinian and Israeli politics. They are the same. But no one in the world knows American politics better than me, and this I will say. There has never been in the White House a president that is so committed on this issue, including Clinton who is a personal friend, and there will never be, at least not in the lifetime of anyone in this room.”

Let’s examine that a bit. Is the PA serious about peace? Is there any indication that the Palestinians are “serious, capable, and interested” in reaching an agreement? Cohen doesn’t bother to ask, for the answer would either strain even the most deluded peace-process fan’s credulity or reveal that, of course, the Palestinians aren’t serious — that’s why they must be lured, bribed, and cajoled to meet not-even-face-to-face with the Israelis.

Next. Mitchell — no doubt speaking slowly so Cohen can record every word of praise — tells his scribe what an “expert” on the Middle East he is. Hmm. Does that include Cohen’s quasi recantation of his views on Iran? But then Mitchell isn’t done — because no one, not a soul knows American politics like George Mitchell. Apparently, he’s working on that little problem which is that two-thirds of the public disapprove of his Middle East policy. (And, really, Mitchell is wasted in the Middle East. With Obama in the 40s in approval polls, shouldn’t Mitchell be chief of staff? You know, have a real job where his skills won’t be wasted in 16 months of fruitless Middle East shuttling.) And then he delivers the final masterstroke of ingratiation and puffery – Hillary, close your ears — “There has never been in the White House a president that is so committed on this issue, including Clinton who is a personal friend, and there will never be, at least not in the lifetime of anyone in this room.” Not Clinton. Not anyone. And Obama is so committed that he’s accomplished what, exactly? Ah, strained Israeli relations to the breaking point, encouraged Palestinian intransigence, induced moderate Arabs to up the ante against Israel, and driven his own poll ratings in Israel into the low single digits. But it’s his intentions that matter, you see.

Really, even for Cohen — and for Mitchell — this is embarrassing stuff. But it does reveal how tone-deaf both are, and how they imagine that grandiose intentions replace results, and that self-definition supersedes reality. You can understand why Obama’s Middle East policy is such a mess.

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Reading Roger Cohen’s Mind Is Easier Than Reading His Columns

Back in November of 2007, not long after Roger Cohen joined the roster of op-ed pundits at the New York Times, Jack Shafer, the media critic at Slate, took the columnist apart in a piece in which he skewered him for his laziness, lame clichés, and generally bad writing. Cohen’s predilection for tired journalistic tropes prompted Shafer to wonder whether he was paying the Scotty Reston estate royalties for using the same pompous copy the ancient Times institution employed in its pages decades ago.

Since then, Cohen has at least showed some creativity. After all, no ordinary mediocrity would have the chutzpah to spend weeks in Iran and then claim that interviews with some of the intimidated remnants of that country’s Jewish community (conducted in the presence of government minders and translators) proved that the Islamist tyranny wasn’t so bad after all. Whitewashing an anti-Semitic regime may have been despicable and hearkened back to the worst sort of propaganda journalism in the tradition of Stalin apologist Walter Duranty — but it did require some effort.

But, alas, after his exertions in Iran last year and a steady stream of convoluted columns blasting Israel and his critics, Cohen is back to the same sort of lazy, stupid writing that struck Shafer as evidence of his utter incompetence. Today, he returns to what Shafer aptly called the “threadbare cliché of constructing [a] piece as a faux conversation or speech” in which he presents a fake monologue titled “Reading Sarkozy’s Mind” from inside the head of French President Nicholas Sarkozy. This sort of shtick was stale twenty years ago when William Safire regularly employed it in the Times but at least that able wordsmith usually managed to execute such columns with a modicum of wit. The genre was further degraded by the wise-aleck versions of this cliché written by Thomas Friedman. Those were bad enough. But get a load of the following prose from Cohen, purporting to be the thoughts of Sarkozy:

“And Iran. Ooh la la! All these advisers telling me Khamenei is not Ahmadinejad and Ahmadinejad is not Larijani. C’est du baloney! Du pur baloney!”

or

“So I tell Barack to be firm. And he says, Nicolas, we need the Chinese. The Chinese! I’m a trained lawyer and I tell him, Barack, I could bill you beaucoup hours while you wait for the Middle Kingdom! Barack’s a good guy. He’s learning. The press portrays us as two fighting cocks! C’est du twaddle!”

Does Cohen really think this is funny? Insightful? It’s not a matter of him being right or wrong about Sarkozy or Obama but rather that he is floundering around trying desperately to pound out a column no matter how bad it might be. There’s no point trying to parse such pieces for the value of Cohen’s opinions, as all they are is evidence that the columnist has run out of ideas. In such cases, it’s not just that the internal editor that every writer must have is absent, but that the actual editors at the Times who are responsible for publishing such trash are also missing in action. As Shafer wrote in 2007, there ought to be a law against such bad writing.

Back in November of 2007, not long after Roger Cohen joined the roster of op-ed pundits at the New York Times, Jack Shafer, the media critic at Slate, took the columnist apart in a piece in which he skewered him for his laziness, lame clichés, and generally bad writing. Cohen’s predilection for tired journalistic tropes prompted Shafer to wonder whether he was paying the Scotty Reston estate royalties for using the same pompous copy the ancient Times institution employed in its pages decades ago.

Since then, Cohen has at least showed some creativity. After all, no ordinary mediocrity would have the chutzpah to spend weeks in Iran and then claim that interviews with some of the intimidated remnants of that country’s Jewish community (conducted in the presence of government minders and translators) proved that the Islamist tyranny wasn’t so bad after all. Whitewashing an anti-Semitic regime may have been despicable and hearkened back to the worst sort of propaganda journalism in the tradition of Stalin apologist Walter Duranty — but it did require some effort.

But, alas, after his exertions in Iran last year and a steady stream of convoluted columns blasting Israel and his critics, Cohen is back to the same sort of lazy, stupid writing that struck Shafer as evidence of his utter incompetence. Today, he returns to what Shafer aptly called the “threadbare cliché of constructing [a] piece as a faux conversation or speech” in which he presents a fake monologue titled “Reading Sarkozy’s Mind” from inside the head of French President Nicholas Sarkozy. This sort of shtick was stale twenty years ago when William Safire regularly employed it in the Times but at least that able wordsmith usually managed to execute such columns with a modicum of wit. The genre was further degraded by the wise-aleck versions of this cliché written by Thomas Friedman. Those were bad enough. But get a load of the following prose from Cohen, purporting to be the thoughts of Sarkozy:

“And Iran. Ooh la la! All these advisers telling me Khamenei is not Ahmadinejad and Ahmadinejad is not Larijani. C’est du baloney! Du pur baloney!”

or

“So I tell Barack to be firm. And he says, Nicolas, we need the Chinese. The Chinese! I’m a trained lawyer and I tell him, Barack, I could bill you beaucoup hours while you wait for the Middle Kingdom! Barack’s a good guy. He’s learning. The press portrays us as two fighting cocks! C’est du twaddle!”

Does Cohen really think this is funny? Insightful? It’s not a matter of him being right or wrong about Sarkozy or Obama but rather that he is floundering around trying desperately to pound out a column no matter how bad it might be. There’s no point trying to parse such pieces for the value of Cohen’s opinions, as all they are is evidence that the columnist has run out of ideas. In such cases, it’s not just that the internal editor that every writer must have is absent, but that the actual editors at the Times who are responsible for publishing such trash are also missing in action. As Shafer wrote in 2007, there ought to be a law against such bad writing.

Read Less




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